By Jeff Gordon
STLTODAY.COM SPORTS COLUMNIST
The Tale of Two Units took a dramatic turn in Seattle.
The Rams defense enjoyed another stellar game -- after the buckling on Seattle’s opening drive -- but the offense suffered a total collapse.
During his Monday news conference, Rams coach Scott Linehan admitted his offense unit has lost its confidence.
“I would say it true because how we’re playing,” Linehan said. “If we were playing, you would see us catch balls in the end zone or be able to get that second-effort block so we can break something. Somebody is waiting for somebody else to make a play. Until that happens, until we have somebody do something extraordinary, I think everybody is waiting for that. Confidence comes from success . . . we’re in need of something like that.
“You talk about confidence . . . it looks to me like it’s worked its way all the way to the top. Even our top players are, for whatever reason, lack of confidence, with our record, or whatever situation we’re in . . . the only way out of that is to execute and make plays and finish off drives. We haven’t been able to do that.
“Last year, with the same coaching staff, the same group of individuals as far as offensive players – a few less receivers from last year’s corps – we had a running back gain nearly 2,500 yards and a quarterback throw for over 4,000 yards. We had two 1,000-yard receivers. We ended up our season with a young offensive line that looked promising for next year. So it’s possible to do it. We’ve done so in the not-so-distant past.
“But again, that’s the past. We’re here now. We have to get headed back in that direction.”
Why have the players lost confidence?
“You’ve got me,” Linehan said. “Our lack of success in the record indicates it more than anything. If we were a confident group, we wouldn’t be talking about it. We would be talking about more of our wins than our losses. We’ve got to find it and I have no idea.”
Defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, meanwhile, is pleased with his the progress his unit is making. Leonard Little’s toe injury aside, the defense is healthy and prosperous.
“They don’t lack confidence,” Haslett said. “They are actually having fun out there playing. It’s frustrating, like this whole team is right now.
“One thing we do have is a nice bond and they enjoy being around one another. They enjoy playing, They play hard. It’s not always perfect. A lot of young guys that are getting better. For the most part, they know that we’re in a bad situation but it really doesn’t affect them.
“Whatever we call, whatever we play, they have confidence in what they’re doing. And they feel comfortable being around one another and everybody trusts one another to do their job. (In that case) it doesn’t really make a difference what you call because it will work.
“It’s when you don’t have confidence in what’s called and what side this guy is going to play, no matter who it is, that’s when things go bad.”
The bottom line: The Rams are 0-7 because the defensive improvements haven't been nearly enough to offset the offensive collapse.
Here are some other highlights of the news briefing:
On the possibility of Steven Jackson returning to face Cleveland: “Just based on how he finished the week. My feeling is that it’s not 100 percent, but close to where it looked like he had the burst he needs to have. The confidence based on practicing last week I think that he’s got is a good sign. You all know what he adds to the table for us. He gives us an explosive player on the field, one that can affect the game in a positive with his ability to run the ball and catch it out of the backfield and his leadership.”
On Marc Bulger’s rolling his eyes at him during the game: “I’m not aware of it. I have not talked to him about it . . . must not have agreed with what I said.”
On what went wrong with the offensive line: “You name it, from blitz pick-up to picking up the line movement to our inability to maintain our pre-snap discipline that you need to have, which kept us sitting in there a little too much, worrying about jumping off-sides . . . all the things you have to be able to handle when you’re on the road and I don’t think we handled it very good up front or as an offensive group.
“Sometimes it’s technique, certainly, and sometime it’s anticipation but they add up to a poor performance. It’s not just one person or the line. It’s not just one person or the line. Sometimes you have to protect by throwing the ball away. Sometimes you have to do other things . . . you can always put it on the line, but it’s a team effort, pass protection or run blocking. Sometimes receivers getting the blocks downfield, just straining to get a guy on the backside on the eight-man front, that would be a good start too.
“You keep coaching them, keep moving ahead, not focusing on a performance that certainly isn’t good enough, but you have to improve the group you have. We’ll have another starting unit again this week, for whatever, the umpteenth time . . . hopefully we can stay that way for a while and that will help, if we can maintain some continuity up front.”
On whether the players have lost faith in the coaches: “That’s for you to determine. I’m looking for answers. You can ask players. I don’t think they’ve lost confidence in anything in specific. But our ability to win is a direct reflection of our confident ability to play. That’s my challenge, our challenge, to get it back.”
On whether some razzle-dazzle plays would inspire the team, as it did for Rutgers: “Maybe I’ll go call the coach at Rutgers and get some of his plays. Maybe that’s what I need to do. That’s a great idea. That’s what you ought to be. You ought to watch TV, just watch plays, we’ll do that.”
OK then . . .
On Leonard Little’s toe injury: “He tore a ligament. He didn’t practice all week. Played in the game, but he has an issue because he is going to have to have surgery on it at some point, whether it’s soon or at the end of the year. It depends on how well it holds up. We’re going to give him some time off again. What happens when you tear ligaments, the toe starts to move in toward your other toes and you really don’t have any strength.
“We tried to give him as much rest as he could get and, to be honest with you, he played just OK.”
On replacing Little: “Victor (Adeyanju) actually did a nice job yesterday, stepped in and probably played the best game he’s played. Had seven tackles, really good on the run. Victor’s issue is he’s got to keep working on the pass rush aspect of it.”
On the play of middle linebacker Will Witherspoon: “He had 16 tackles yesterday. He was all over the field. That’s about as good as I’ve seen him play. He tackled with power. He looked like an inside linebacker. He knocked those guys backward. He covered, he covered the middle of the field. The guy has unbelievable range.
“I know he’s not your prototype 260-pound type inside linebacker. The guy is 237 pounds, but if you can keep him free, he can make a lot of plays for you. I don’t have any problem with him playing inside.”
On the play of Claude Wroten: “I’d like to see him hang into on the run a little better. He had a nice rush. He hit (Matt) Hasselbeck and had a couple of more pressures. He was more active. He needs to keep working on the run game.”
On the overall defensive improvement: “We’re doing better and better on the run, that’s the big thing. Those young guys inside (Adam Carriker and Clifton Ryan) really helped the run (defense). We’re seeing us getting more outside runs now. We have enough speed we ought to be handle that all that.
“You can see our secondary really coming together. Tye Hill has a chance to be a special player in this league. Fakhir (Brown) is playing about as good as you can play. I think O.J. (Atogwe) has a chance to be a star, a guy with a combination of speed and power and smarts. He is great open-field tackler, he is a ball magnet. We have a lot of young guys starting to play well and that’s the big thing.”
On Corey Chavous’ return: “He played pretty well. He’s a little rusty, tackling wise. He missed a tackle . . . he did a pretty good job. It’s like riding a bike for him. He’s been there for so long.”